“Don’t you care about justice?”
Rabbi/organizer Jonah Pesner asked me this pointed question when I told him I want to open a community mikveh in New York after I am ordained.
This healthy agitation from someone I respect shook me. Had I lost my way, I wondered? Does an interest in healing and personal transformation mean that I am abandoning the pursuit of justice?
“Tzedek, tzedek tirdof lmaan tich’yeh (justice, justice, you shall pursue so that you shall live).” Perhaps the repetition of the word is not merely to provide emphasis but rather to call our attention to two different faces of tzedek (justice); two different, yet interrelated embodiments of justice.
One face of justice is loud and fiery – big picture justice that makes headlines, summons us to sign petitions, attend rallies, and to pray, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, with our feet.
The other face of justice is quiet – realized in the texture of personal transformation, the inner experience of healing, the touch of pastoral care, and the mending of relationships.
What, then, does quiet justice look like?
A woman who visited Mayyim Hayyim, the community mikveh in Newton, Massachusetts wrote this reflection upon emerging from the living waters. “I knew the mikveh would not be the only thing I needed to help me heal from sexual abuse, but I still began to go every year before Yom Kippur. One time I remember leaving the mikveh and crying on the way home, saying it was all a lie, I had been made to believe all these bad things about myself over the years. But God’s truth was that I was clean.”
In this experience of transformation and newfound self-respect, quiet justice prevailed.
Tzedek tzedek tirdof lmaan tich’yeh. We need both in order to live.
Quiet justice is rarely quoted. But imagine some pictures you will never see…
A mikveh guide lowering a person with a disability into the water – is the mikveh guide just nice? No, the mikveh guide is working for justice.
A chaplain sitting with a family at the bedside of a cancer patient – is the chaplain just caring? No, the chaplain is working for justice.
A rabbi facilitating a ritual for a recent divorcee – is the rabbi just sensitive? No, the rabbi is working for justice.
“Don’t you care about justice?” Jonah asked me. Of course I do. Both loud justice and quiet justice. The justice that gets pictured in the news and the justice that hardly gets pictured at all. One does not supplant the other; they are not in competition. At times in our lives and careers, we work for one form of justice, and at times, the other.
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof l’maan tich’yeh.
Sara Luria was an intern at Mayyim Hayyim in the summer of 2011. She is a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. A trained community organizer and birth doula, Sara hopes to integrate her passion for social justice and commitment to meaningful Jewish experience in her rabbinate. Sara has served for the past two years as the rabbinic intern at East End Temple in Manhattan. Before entering rabbinical school, she worked as a Jewish educator in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Sara is an alumna of the Jewish Organizing Initiative, a year-long fellowship that trains young Jewish leaders in community organizing, and graduated with honors from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Sara lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and 2-year-old son. The family hopes to welcome its newest member at the end of February.